Swell Classification Guidelines
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate/Utility Class: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft).
Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Tuesday (3/11) in North and Central CA surf was head high and looking rather windswellish though local winds were light with clean conditions. Rideable but not anything better. Down in Santa Cruz surf was waist to chest high on the sets and lightly textured and rideable but fairly weak. In Southern California up north surf was waist to near chest high on the sets and clean and reasonably well lined up. Down south waves were chest high with some bigger sets and clean and decent looking. Hawaii's North Shore was small with waist high surf and clean conditions. The South Shore was flat. Exposed breaks on the East Shore were knee high with luck and heavily textured from light trades.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
A small but solid system developed in the Northern Gulf on Sun-Mon (3/10) with up to 44 ft seas aimed east-northeast mainly at the Pacific Northwest. Swell mainly for the US West Coast expected mid-week. Another pair of weak fetch areas was tracking east over the dateline Tues-Wed (3/12) with 34 ft seas offering something small for both Hawaii and the US West Coast, but unremarkable. Remnants of that system to redevelop and track northeast through the Gulf Fri-Sat (3/15) perhaps producing a tiny area of 38 ft seas aimed east. Maybe swell from both for the US West Coast by late weekend. And one last gale is forecast for the Northern Dateline Sun (3/16) with 32 ft seas aimed east. A slowly diminishing surf pattern expected.
Note: NDBC has updated their buoy maintenance plan. 46012, 46013, 46026 are scheduled for maintenance in May and 46014 in Aug 2014. There is no schedule for 46059 or 46006. Most operations are focused on repairing the TAO array (ENSO monitoring buoys on the equator).
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Tuesday (3/11) the jetstream was pushing off Japan near 30N then steadily ridging northeast over the dateline with winds to 190 kts up at 40N, turning east at a point north of Hawaii then starting to fall southeast and splitting. A small and pinched trough was at the split point. The northern branch again turned northeast pushing up into Central Canada while the southern branch fell over Hawaii, split again with most energy tracking towards the equator. In all there was weak support for gale development associated with the jet ridging towards the Gulf, and another area in the pinched trough in the Gulf. But neither area was remotely impressive. Over the next 72 hours wind energy is to hold in the 190 kt range and pushing east into Wednesday (3/12) with the split point reaching east to 150W, with a hard split east of there with the northern branch tracking east into Central Canada and the southern branch pushing towards the equator. Limited support for gale development north of the strongest winds, but no real signs of a legitimate trough are forecast. By 72 hours out (Fri 3/14) the bulk of the wind energy is to be gone, fading to 140 kts with a better defined trough forming in the Western Gulf offering decent support for gale development. The split point is to move east to 130W, just off the Oregon coast. Back to the west 150 kt winds to be building over Japan but with the jet starting to split just east of there, with the northern branch ridging over the dateline then falling into the previously mentioned trough in the Western Gulf. Beyond 72 hours the trough in the Western Gulf is to ease east over the weekend pinching off and dying Sunday (3/16) off the Pacific Northwest. Otherwise 150 kt winds to continue off Japan and tracking east, with a broad split in the jet moving to a point northwest of Hawaii. No real support for gale development in lower levels of the atmosphere is indicated. If anything wind speeds are to back off more with the jet generally tracking flat west to east on the 30N latitude line, but with much energy peeling off to the north in pockets and diffuse but mostly confined south of the Aleutians through Wed (3/19). No support for gale development indicated. A projected turn from the Active Phase of the MJO to a neutral Phase is likely to cut off energy to the jet, which in turn will reduce fuel to support gale development over the North Pacific.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (3/11) swell from a small storm that tracked through the Gulf of Alaska was pushing towards the Pacific Northwest (see Gulf Storm below) with sideband energy towards Hawaii. More small energy is forecast behind (see paragraphs below).
Over the next 72 hours another tiny gale is forecast developing west of the dateline Tues AM (3/11) with 45 kt west winds tracking flat east and seas 32 ft over an infinitesimal area at 42N 176E (295 degs NCal) with a secondary fetch and 34 ft seas at 35N 163E. This gale to track flat east with winds fading to 40 kts in the PM with seas fading to 30 ft at 43N 180W (295 degs NCal) and again back at 35N 160E (299 degs HI). 45 kt west winds to rebuild in the main fetch over tiny area tracking east Wed AM (3/12) with seas 36 ft moving up to 43N 174W (296 degs NCal) and the secondary fetch providing 28 ft seas at 35N 167E (300 degs HI). More of the same is forecast in the evening with 40 kt west winds in the 2 fetch areas tracing east with seas 34 ft up at 43N 167W (294 degs NCal) and 30 ft in the secondary fetch at 35N 175E (306 degs HI). The more southerly fetch is to target Hawaii with the northerly fetch targeting the US West Coast. But relative to the US West Coast, the fetch is to be so small and so far away as to be negligible. Both system to be fading Thurs AM (3/13) with 29 ft seas up at 43N 160W (293 degs NCal) and down at 35N 176W (314 degs HI). Limited sideband swell for Hawaii with more direct energy for the US West Coast, but well decayed upon arrival assuming all goes as forecast.
Additionally, the second of the two systems above is to start redeveloping north of Hawaii on Thurs PM (3/13) with 45 kt west winds building over a small area and seas regenerating from 32 ft down at 37N 167W. Winds to build to 50 kts Fri AM (2/14) aimed due east with seas to 39 ft at 38N 159W (284 degs NCal, 291 degs SCal). The fetch is to start lifting northeast in the evening with northwest winds 45+ kts and seas 32 ft up at 41N 150W (286 degs NCal and 1250 nmiles out, 295 degs SCal). 45 kt west winds to be lifting north Sat AM (3/15) with 32 ft seas at 45N 143W (303 degs NCal) and targeting primarily the Pacific northwest. This system is to fade fast thereafter. This could potentially results in more swell for the US West Coast early Monday (3/17).
A small gale developed in the Western Gulf on Sun AM (3/9) with 45 kt northwest winds and seas on the increase from 30 ft at 44N 172W (336 degs HI, 296 degs NCal). The Jason-2 satellite passed over the far western quadrant of the storm at 18z and reported seas 22.7 ft with one reading to 26.2 ft where the model suggested 25 ft seas should be, about 1-2 ft lower than expected. By evening the gale built to storm status with 50 kt west winds briefly over a small area and seas building from 43 ft at 45N 166W (296 degs NCal). 45 kt west winds were fading Mon AM (3/10) lifting slightly north with seas 41 ft at 46N 159W (297 degs NCal). The Jason-2 satellite made a pass over the western quadrant of this storm at 18Z and confirmed seas at 33.1 ft with a peak reading to 37.9 ft where the model suggested 30 ft seas. So seas were a bit higher than projected. A quick fade occurred in the evening with winds fading from 40 kts and seas fading from 32 ft up at 49N 155W (308 degs NCal) targeting only British Columbia. The Jason-2 satellite again passed over the eastern edge of the storm at 06Z reporting seas 26.5 ft with a peak reading to 31.1 ft where the model suggested 23 ft seas, again a bit higher than what the model suggested. This system was gone by Tues AM (3/11). This system had decent swell generation potential focused from Central CA northward with most energy targeting the Pacific Northwest. And seas were likely a bit higher than the model suggested.
North CA: Expect swell arrival on late Wed (3/12) with period 18 secs and size small and building after sunset. Swell to peak just before sunrise Thurs (3/13) at 6.2-7.0 ft @ 15-16 secs (9.2-11.2 ft). Size fading through the day. Residuals on Friday (3/14) at 5 ft @ 13 secs (6.5 ft faces). Swell Direction: 296-297 degrees
Hawaii: Sideband swell to reach Hawaii late Tues (3/11) pushing 4.5 ft @ 16 secs late (7 ft). Swell holding overnight then fading Wed AM (3/12) from 6 ft @ 13-14 secs (8 ft). Swell Direction: 330 degrees
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
No tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Tuesday AM (3/11) high pressure was ridging into the Pacific Northwest with a summer-like gradient producing north-northeast winds at 25+ kts off North and Central CA but mainly limited to outer waters. Reinforcing high pressure was north of Hawaii tracking east. A calm wind pattern to take hold Wednesday into early Thursday but then the new high is to start impacting the coast with north winds building to 15 kts for most all of North and Central CA later building to 15-20 kts on Friday. A new strong low pressure system is forecast building north of Hawaii pushing northeast. By Saturday (3/15) it's to cut off the high with a light northerly flow over all of California fading to calm winds on Sunday holding into Monday. Yet more high pressure is forecast moving into the Gulf on Tuesday with a local low holding it at bay off the California coast, with light winds for all of CA. But it's looking more like a Spring high pressure pattern is trying to take root.
Surface - No swell producing weather systems were in play. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing gale activity is forecast aimed up into our forecast area.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hours a broad gale is forecast developing just east of Kamchatka and south of the Aleutians on Sat PM (3/15) with 40 kt west winds tracking east. Seas building from 30 ft. This system is to track flat east Sun AM (3/16) with 40 kt west winds holding and seas building to 32 ft at 50N 175E. 40 kt west winds to be moving up into the Bering Sea Sun PM with seas fading from 32 ft at 50N 178W. A quick fade to follow. No additional swell producing fetch is forecast.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather cycle that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized in it's Inactive Phase by enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is in control of, and in it's Active Phase by slack if not an outright reversal of trade winds and enhanced precipitation. The oscillation occurs in roughly 20-30 day cycles (Inactive for 20-30 days, then Active for 20-30 days) over any single location on the planet. During the Active Phase in the Pacific the MJO tends to support the formation of stronger and longer lasting gales resulting in enhanced potential for the formation of swell producing storms. During the Inactive Phase the jet stream tends to split resulting in high pressure and less potential for swell producing storm development. The paragraphs below analyze the state of the MJO in the Pacific and provide forecasts for MJO activity (which directly relate to the potential for swell production).
As of Tuesday (3/11) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was up some at -8.14. The 30 day average was down to -8.10 and the 90 day average down slightly to 2.16. The near term trend based on the SOI was indicative of the Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of a neutral Phase of the MJO. The SOI tends to be a lagging indicator running a week behind surface level weather trends.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated a small area of moderate westerly anomalies holding over the Eastern Maritime Continent fading some over the dateline then fading to near neutral south of Hawaii. East anomalies developed near 130W then faded to neutral from there to Central America. These westerly anomalies are part of the current Active Phase of the MJO and the tail end of a second Westerly Wind Burst in two months in this area. This second WWB is situated directly over an area where a previous strong Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) started in Jan on 1/8, peaking 1/28 and then faded while moving over the dateline. The easterly anomalies are a redevelopment of a continued trend for easterlies in the East Pacific. A week from now (3/19) moderate to strong west anomalies (and real west winds) are forecast taking root again over the Maritime Continent reaching to the dateline, associated with a tropical system projected building south of the equator. West anomalies to continue over the dateline extending to a point south of Hawaii. Weak easterly anomalies are to hold over a small area east of there, then near neutral the rest of the way into Central America. In all this suggests the Active Phase of the MJO was in control of the West Pacific and dateline regions with a near neutral pattern holding over the Central and East Pacific, and the Active Phase is expected to rebuild a week out. This setup is very interesting with a previous WWB having likely created a large Kelvin Wave tracking towards South America in January (starting 1/8, peaking 1/28 then fading the first week of Feb). And then another strong WWB (as strong as the previous one starting 2/15 and peaking 2-20-3/2 and fading out by 3/10) setting up and offering yet more potential to transport warm water east. And if yet a third westerly wind burst occurred, this would be significant. Certainly something to monitor. Of historical note: The big El Nino's of 82/32 and 97/98 both started forming in the February timeframe and progressed non-stop through the Summer and Fall months. Still the cool pool in the Central Pacific remains perplexing (more below).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 3/10 remain mixed. They suggest the Active Phase of the MJO was over the dateline with a strong Inactive Phase building in the Eastern Indian Ocean. 5 days out the statistic model suggests the Active Phase is to be on the decline, slowly fading while tracking east, gone 15 days out south of Hawaii with a strong Inactive Phase moving from the Indian Ocean into the West Pacific 8-15 days out. Conversely the dynamic model (GFS) suggests the Active Phase has also peaked over the dateline and is to slowly fade there, but giving up no ground and if anything retrograding and rebuilding slightly 8-15 days out keeping the Inactive Phase bottled up over Indonesia for the next 15 days. Clearly the dynamic model output is what we are hoping to see but we have no sense this will really occur. The ultra long range upper level model updated on 3/5 (no recent update) suggests a weak Active Phase was over the Central Pacific and is to track east and fade, moving inland over Central America on Mar 20. A modest Inactive Phase is starting to develop in the Indian Ocean and is to track east, pushing into the West Pacific 3/17 tracking east and reaching the East Pacific on 4/4. Another solid Active Phase is to follow directly starting in the west on 3/30 reaching the Central Pacific 4/10 and most strong then. The consensus is that the current Active Phase of the MJO is likely done and is fading. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of now (3/10) the ground truth is that a cool water regime appears to be fading over the Eastern equatorial Pacific. Things continue to look somewhat improved from the previous weeks images. The cool flow appears to be cut off streaming from Peru to the Galapagos, with at least a neutral temperature pattern suggested there if not warming slightly. The only cool water remaining is from the Galapagos westward to a point south of Hawaii and it is cut off from the main cool pool trying to radiate west off Peru. Warm water from north of the equator is cutting off the flow near the Galapagos and overrunning the thin flow pushing off Peru. This cool pool was likely the source of the rising SOI during January. And yet other data suggests the cool stream has completely dissipated with neutral water temps over this entire region. What remains perplexing is that a Westerly Wind Burst was occurring at the same time (in Jan) this cool regime developed. And the cool pool held if not built more while yet another Westerly Wind Burst developed in Feb-Mar. Today water temps are near normal over the region extending from Ecuador to 160W, with most water temps just at or slightly below normal. The previous California cool plume tracking southwest to the equator driven by high pressure off California is gone with warm waters pushing into the North CA coast and building down to the equator. This is good news. Thousands of miles of warmer water lurking between Japan and just off the North CA coast is moving east and reaching the coast. Local water temp in the SF Bay Area are coming up. A sympathetic cool pool that had developed off Africa remains dissipated.
Current thinking by NOAA and others is that the cool pool in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific is tied to the upwelling (backside) of the previous Kelvin Wave currently impacting South America, and that as that portion of the wave moves inland, temperatures will rise again. There's the first hints of a mildly warm warm pattern developing from a surface water temp perspective and no sign of the cool pool moving east. But there's also some suggestions that normal convergence point of an eastward shifted Walker Circulation might be developing on the dateline, with west anomalies west of it and east anomalies east of it, all converging and pushing upwards on the dateline itself. If anything this convergence point appears to be migrating slowly to the east. This would be expected if the early stages of El Nino were in-play. But for now we'll remain conservative and suggest we are in a pure neutral pattern, with tendencies towards a warmer state (but not realized yet) with upwelling in the east and downwelling and warmer temps in the west as of 3/11. Still, two back-to-back WWBs (with the first very strong and the second building to nearly that strength) coupled with easterly anomalies directly east of them cannot be ignored.
Subsurface waters temps on the equator are of most interest and remain most impressive. Cooler than normal water (-2 deg c) that was 100m down at 110W (off Central America) has moderated to -1 C and is holding at 100W but appears to be dissipating some as of 3/11. Still there remains a hard barrier between warmer water at depth and cooler waters at the surface in the east Pacific, but there's some signs it could be loosening it's grip. The real issue is there are limited active sensors on TOA array buoys there (one at 110W and one at 95W), so whatever the model/graphic indicate, it's just a guess. Of the limited data available, water temps apepars to be rising over the past month down 50-100 meteres. For now this cool patch is continuing to block any warm flow trying to move east, but we're thinking that might not be a completely accurate depictation of reality. If warm water were to start suddenly appearing off Ecuador and Peru, this would confirm this suspicion. but that is likely still a few weeks from occurring. At the same time a large area of very warm water 5 deg C above normal is in-place and believed to be tracking east with it's core 150 meters down at 175-145W with it's leading edge holding at 105W (+1 deg C) and is tracking under the cool pool. But again, lack of sensors on the TAO array mean this is just a guess. Regardless, a large Kelvin Wave has been generated by 24 days of modest to strong westerly anomalies west of the dateline in January (a Westerly Wind Burst). The hope is the January WWB and Kelvin Wave under the mid equatorial Pacific will add more fuel to what is hopefully the start of at least a small warm event. And yet another WWB is likely in progress from the Feb-March WWB and is as strong as the Jan event. That will only add more warm water to the proverbial fire. The concern is that the cool pool off the Galapagos might try to put a cap on this new Kelvin Wave as it tries to impact the South America coast. But it's still way too early to know with any certainty how this will play out. But signs remain promising.
Projections from the CFSv2 model run 3/6 have rebound. The model has been continuously suggesting some form of warming starting in Feb 2014 (but that did not happen) building to +0.25 deg C by late July 2014. Recent runs are back up to 1.2 deg C range by Oct 2014 (down from 1.3-1.4 C earlier). For the immediate future (this Spring) an effective neutral pattern is expected with temps hovering below +0.2 deg C through April. But a slow but steady increase is to set in. If anything, those increase are starting to appear on the current water temp plots. A consensus of other models suggests slow warming, but not passing beyond mildly positive territory till Spring of next year.
Overall the immediate outlook remains nothing stellar, but trending towards something that would be considered right on the threshold of warm, by Summer 2014, assuming one were to believe the models. All this is good news. If anything the ocean is in a recharging mode, with cold water from the 2010-2011 La Nina dispersed and temperatures gradually on the rise again in fit's-and-starts. Regardless of the WWBs etc, we are in a neutral ENSO pattern with neither a solid El Nino or La Nina imminent. Expect a neutral pattern for the Spring of 2014 with perhaps a slightly warmer pattern developing by May. Still the cool pool at depth off Central America gives us cause for concern. But this is a better place than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. It seems apparent we've finally recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. Longer term the expectation is there will be at least one to two years of neutral temperatures ultimately converging in a stronger warmer pattern and possible El Nino 2-3 years out (2015 or 2016 though there's increasing chatter that it could be as early as 2014 - which would be an anomaly in itself). And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts post La Nina before a legit El Nino forms). We've turned the corned, but it is still unknown what impact it will have on the atmosphere especially in light of what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998).
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch of interest is forecast.
Details to follow...
External Reference Material: El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Kelvin Wave
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table